Saturday, February 28, 2009


I like Saturday afternoons. I am supposed to jerk myself off bed and go around town, maybe enrich my knowledge with the sights and sounds (and smells) of the city; too bad, having got home from office a few hours ago and intending to prepare myself for the drastic transition from sleeping through the day to sleeping at nights, I am resisting sleep, fighting it off for some for some 'quality time' with my roommate whom I haven't seen for a week, thanks to our shifts (and who has conveniently gone back to sleep, despite having slept seven-and-a-half solid hours). Going diurnal human from nocturnal whatever-creature. I don't know, I don't have a name for it.

So this Saturday afternoon, I'm sitting up in bed, the maroon curtains are half drawn back across the windows, and the sky is close to my face, thickening with rainclouds. I feel like Heidi in her attic bedroom. I really do. All those miles away from home, amidst new people, and young. Okay, not so young.

I find myself able to participate, to a small degree, in girl talk (now I don't know if that's good news); girls aren't awful company, they can be okay at times. And it helps to have a roommate who doesn't wake up to bright lights or noise (except the sunlight streaming full into our 'attic' room, or my windchimes tinkling as the breeze whispers in through an indiscernible crack between the window-pane and the frame). Nature does know how to rouse you from untimely sleep!

My windchimes, yes. I claim possession to this one thing, the first thing I bought here and that I dearly love, the steel-coloured rods clanging against the brass sphere, and three-fourth full faces of the sun on black string with gazes that can be interpreted as sinister or impassive, depending on your day at work, or in your head.

A small tug at the curtains, and sunshine and cloud-luminosity can be obliterated in one stroke. Just a tiny push on the window-pane, and the sounds of the city, the rush and the roar, can be suppressed. To block out the world that is, is that simple. To lose yourself in the world that doesn't exist, but that you imagine and cherish and hope for. Only for a little while, though, before the world imposes on you in the shape of people within the house, hunger and thirst of the physical kind, vibrations of the cell phone, thunder, lightning, the at-once real and dreamily distant clink of the wind chimes. Oh yes, the world gets to you. It gets to you with the nagging reminders of the commonplace; with the knowledge that you're aging, that the people on the videos on MTV are hormone-charged teenagers and the people you grew up watching have probably greyed and put on a few ounces of weight around the stomach, that half the cricket team will soon be younger than you, that the job you came into, fresh and full of enthusiasm, some day would be taken over by another fresher from college. And you'd be the wise Oracle that they'd look up to. Wait. Who am I kidding?

Not today. No amount of financial wrangling or bidding, money lost or gained (it is circulated, someone has it, so why worry?), troubled girlfriends and messy kitchens will get me out of the light and ethereal dreams my mind wants to drift into. The packet of potato chips may lie ripped apart on the sofa, the kitchen might be a real mess, the laundry might pile up to mammoth proportions. Don't mention the mundane to me, not this day, when I am pretending to be Heidi amidst her soft white sheets on her hay bed, the sky on my brow.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Parent Attack

Trust not-so-young Indian parents to show off their "general knowledge".

Whether this "trivia" was put to good use in school and college and directed into useful channels of quizzing, or not, it certainly serves as a trustworthy irritant for reasonably young nerves. Not to talk of the poor, incomprehending child that is caught in the midst of all the ostentation.

"What animal is that?" Loud, clear, ringing tones.

"Tiger?" Meek, nervous, terribly unsure.

"The King of the Jungle?! Come on, you know it." Incredulous, coaxing and threatening.

Silence. A moment or two of the heavenly bliss that one craves for and finds in the most unexpected places. Oh, how much enlightenment can come from three-quarters of an hour of inane talk thankfully endowed with those blessed pockets of silence! From the silence, by the way, not the talk.

"It is a lion." The other parent. Defeat, submission, a tinge of embarrassment. The child isn't learning much. Let's send him to school earlier than we thought we should. And tuitions, too.

Before I leave you craving for a pocket of silence, let me also tell you that this is just a sample. The other things I was forcefully, unwillingly taught that Saturday night was that fawns are the young ones of deer (or deers, as our young Tamizh Maami insisted on calling them), tapirs have sharp noses, zebras have stripes, and those thick-skinned animals that wallow in the mud are bisons. There, now that I have dutifully shared my knowledge, let me explain what triggered off this whole rant. It isn't fiction at all; not a bit. It is based on a conversation which I cannot say I eavesdropped on (ugh! not the most obsessive-compulsive voyeur would choose to eavesdrop on something of this sort), or overheard (this, because it was carried on as audibly as possible). I was on the Night Safari with three of the girls, and we were ensconced comfortably in our seat, ready to lose ourselves in the mysterious wonders, habits and habitats of nocturnal creatures, when along came this couple with a very young son, and just our (or is it my?) luck, they plonked down right behind us. So for the entire duration of our trip through the park, in the lovely darkness with the breeze carrying the breath of the forests and some not-so-enticing natural odours, we were forced to put up with the agonising coaching of the parents, a most uninterested child squeezed between the two wildlife enthusiasts. (I cannot think of a more sarcastic term.) The mother, we came to a unanimous decision after the trip, was the most excited of them all, almost jumping out of the tram in her excitement to see the Indian buffaloes in their incongruous Singaporean setting, the prowling lions and the sleeping tigers. (Digressing: the guide on the trip said tigers are natural energy conservers and sleep a lot, upto 20 hours a day. Indeed? Um...can we have something more interesting than that, because we know enough human beings who do that, and that fateful night, I was actually in the midst of them. Lucky me, my flatmates don't read my blog.)

The trip, setting aside the unwanted presence, was soothing and enriching. When you see animals in their natural settings and watch them in their power and glory, you are awe-struck and want to see them flourish. The importance of conservation hits you harder when you see for yourself how nature abounds in wealth and how cruelly we are destroying it all. The gentle eyes of the elephants and the deer seemed to tell a story of immense suffering, and you just felt the urge to go stroke them and tell them that you'd be able to set things right.

Hope is a good thing to have. Almost as good as being single.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Community Life

The sombre sentimentality of the morning has worn off, the rainclouds are gathering, and it's time to go to the supermarket to stock up.

Community Living is what I call living with five other girls in one house. Five girls.

My culinary skills haven't made great headway, and the only thing I do is make noodles, which, of course, my cousin began doing when she was ten. I make decent coffee. I choose chocolate well. In fact, when my flatmates went shopping for chocolates to take home on a visit to India, they took me along for my oracular judgement.

I won't make the regular, meaningless statements about people surviving my cooking...I haven't done much cooking (potato curry and tomato curry- one disastrous, the other much-appreciated), and besides, bad-tasting food never killed anyone. I was rather apprehensive that I might be turned out for not being much of a chef, but I'm useful in other ways (say, as a 'connoisseur' of chocolate), so we're still hanging on together.

Living on your own means looking after your clothes. Washing and ironing them, to be precise. This gets a little difficult when you have more cotton clothes than anything else in your wardrobe, and the colours run, and you wait until the last scrap of clothing you own is in the unsightly heap building up in one corner of your bedroom. The casualty has been some of my favourite clothes being relegated to rough wearing at home; white ruined by the colour off someone else's clothes, purple frayed and faded from constant tumbling and wringing within the washing machine. Oh, okay, I wasn't ever too particular about the quantity of clothes I had. Sadly enough, now I have to be. My ironing is such that it drives my roommate to want to grab the iron from my hand and do my clothes for me.

My intentions are good. They know, and I do, so we somehow get on. I put the rice on in the electric cooker, and only occasionally do I forget to switch the button to 'Cook' from 'Warm'. Accidents happen. It's okay. Sometimes I spill some milk, but I've never left anything cooking on the stove and forgotten all about it, like my roommates sometimes do. (I don't expect you to say, "You never cook, so no danger of that"- you're not so predictable as that, are you?)

They like my hair, but not the way I look after it. Because I hardly do. They try to make me dress more girlishly, but frills and flounces have never been me. Sometimes it is frustrating when they'd rather watch a movie for the umpteenth time than let me watch an F1 race. Or when they wonder why I cannot be as open as the rest of them with my life. Oh come on, I tell them, I don't have anything to tell.

I'm at peace on this wonderful, work-free Saturday, only the thought that we need to go to the supermarket is gnawing at me. That, and the fact that I haven't got in enough reading the whole week. So it's bye bye laptop for now. Begone, I am off to read.

Celebrating Sunshine

Early mornings have become a thing of the past. As I make my coffee, it is bright and sunshiny outside- so bright that a young lady with an umbrella is running across the play-area to beat the heat (or is she just in danger of missing her bus?). Winter carries a subtle, almost unnoticeable hint of its presence on the warm summer-like breeze, just a reminder of its presence before it makes way for spring. Like the green waters of a pond, warmed by winter sunshine yet deliciously cold. Winters, too, are a thing of the past. At four in the morning, you can wander barefoot through the house in your ordinary clothes and not feel a thing.

However, this is a glorious morning. Too sunny maybe, if you're out in the open, but this is the sort of morning that kindles memories hidden away somewhere, not making the present a cause for regret and longing for the days gone by, but a celebration of what has been and what is. You seek refuge under a shady tree, but you won't mind going back into the sunshine once you're rested enough. That is what memories are for, aren't they? To rejuvenate and inspire, to push you forward for more to set store in that vast cavern in the depths of your mind. To draw strength from, to give you something to laugh at yourself about, an estimation of how you naivete has increased or lessened over the years.

On the tracks suspended in the air, a train makes its way through symmetrical concrete boxes. A cold capsule in which people sit huddled, wrapped up in their thoughts and their jackets, staring occasionally out the window and wondering at the contraption called the air-conditioner that we invented, only to look more longingly than ever at the gold-flecked grass in the distance and want the heat more badly than ever. Uncurtained windows are left exposed to the sight of curious eyes, as are high banks of grass and trees and vast, unspoilt stretches of land, soon to be covered over by buildings and be indistinguishable from the rest of the district.

(Digression: Through the depths of the night, the cold capsule pulls into the station, windows frosted over as if it were coming from the Arctic, and carries its passengers around the loop line. The warm pink lights glowing in one house mark it out from the others shrouded in sleepy darkness, bestowing it with a sense of mystery, rather beguiling after a long hard day at work. The land around is bleak and dark; what sort of monster can you expect from the unbounded wilderness?)

The orange-and-yellow school building across the road is quietly asleep. Oh yes, those trees bobbing in the gentle wind do remind me of my own playground days, and absurdly enough, they seem to have gone by just weeks ago, not years. Schoolgirls. Now just girls. Some women. Sleep away, School, you have only until Monday morning. Go on, Memories, for you will be pushed back where you don't belong once the present presses with an irrepressible, exaggerated urgency.

There was a single spot of light on the ceiling. Now it's gone. Hide-and-seek? I'm game.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Lewis Hamilton's Story- Engaging, but not enough

Lewis Hamilton: My Story was written after Lewis Hamilton's unimaginably splendid rookie season in Formula One in 2007. Which is why, Hamilton doesn't intend to call it an autobiography, because he is too young for one. The book maps out Hamilton's life, from being a kid in Stevenage, to the karting years, and then his career in Formula 3, GP2 and finally the glorious pinnacle of F1.

Few drivers, perhaps, have such sensational debut seasons. Hamilton made it to the podium at the season-opener in Melbourne and delivered nine consecutive podium positions before his run came to a halt at the European Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring. His consistency meant he led the championship from the third race of the season. His undoing was the Chinese GP, where he could have taken the drivers' title, and the final twist of fate, after the run of incredibly good luck throughout the season came to a complete halt at the Brazilian GP. Kimi Raikkonen won the championship- 110 to Hamilton's 109.

Hamilton would by no means be short of matter for a sequel. He has since had his revenge on Ferrari, winning the 2008 championship in just as heartbreaking a manner as Raikkonen won his. Hamilton finished with 98 points against Felipe Massa's 97.

It wasn't just Hamilton's skillful driving that created ripples that eventful year, though. His relationship with the then defending World Champion Fernando Alonso, making a transition from French team Renault to McLaren Mercedes hogged the headlines, as did the controversy of the British team being in possession of data belonging to Ferrari. These incidents are revisited in the book, and while nothing much is revealed in terms of the McLaren-Ferrari controversy, there is quite a bit about Hamilton's relationship with Alonso, his attempts to make the Spaniard feel at home in a British team. Hamilton, by his own admission, didn't have trouble settling in, having been a part of the outfit for a really long time through associations in his pre-F1 years, and understandably the team must have had a tough time juggling two extremely ambitious drivers and their careers. I wouldn't want to talk about which of them is a more thorough gentleman, though- having read about it all from Hamilton's point of view, who says Alonso could have done more to fit in, I would like to know why Alonso did lose his cool despite having all that experience. He was portrayed as a brat in the press, I remember, and it was rather astonishing why somebody seeking to defend his title would act in such an immature manner.

The book does for a smooth read about a driver's foray into motorsport, from the formative years to the destination, with descriptions of Hamilton's situation in each race of the season. However, I do think it could have done with a little more in-depth description of how the driver works with the team, how everything is put together over a race weekend.

But then, this is the first celebrity 'autobiography' I'm reading, and perhaps this is how they all are. Hamilton sounds decently humble, ambitious and confident. However, this isn't good enough to convert me. I was asked by a colleague at work why I was reading about a driver I didn't support. Well, this has just been one of my attempts at being unbiased and fair, and try to view things from the other party's perspective. That said, I just can't wait to see Ferrari make mincemeat of McLaren-Mercedes in the 2009 season. Beg to differ? Go ahead, dreamer.